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Can you hear me now? 9 tips for effective remote meetings

Everybody loves meetings! Okay, that’s a lie, nobody loves meetings. But, like tax returns, traffic wardens and brussel sprouts, they’re a necessary evil. Here are a few tips to help you make your remote meetings that bit smoother and more effective.

Cancel it

Yep, you heard me. The best way to make your next meeting more effective might be to simply not have it. There are plenty of tools your team can use to keep in sync and reduce the need for meetings. If you use Slack, setting up a specific channel and writing out the main points might be a more effective way to kick-off a project. Meanwhile an app such as Complish can help with daily check ins, follow ups and keeping your team aligned without the need to all jump on a call. Go on, just imagine all that nice white space in your calendar...

Follow the leader

As with face-to-face meetings, it really helps if somebody takes charge. In remote, this person’s responsibilities increase - after all, someone will need to send the meeting link/code (yet again) to those who claim not to have received it. Once the preliminary ‘can you hear me now?’s are done with, they’ll need to set the agenda and then bring in other participants. They should keep an eye on the time and interrupt when necessary to bring people back from tangents. They might even want to mute participants who are creating background noise while they listen (although using the mute button on someone who is talking is probably a no-no, no matter how tempting...).

Have an agenda

Any meeting, remote or otherwise, will benefit if there is a clear agenda that’s send to participants beforehand. Even a few bullet points can be enough, just so everybody knows what the meeting objective is and what the main points of discussion will be. This will not only give the meeting structure and purpose but will mean that your team will have a chance to get their heads into the topic ahead of the call.

Establish norms

Meetings held at the office come with their own etiquette that has evolved over the years (yawns should be stifled, you can’t just get up and walk out, etcetera). Remote meetings are a newer phenomenon for most of us and so it can be helpful to set some basic ground rules. 

  • Cameras on: meetings generally work better when everyone can see each other, so participants should be encouraged to keep their camera on. 
  • Use the mute button. Background noise can be distracting, so people should get into the habit of muting their mic when not talking (a soundtrack of coughs, heavy breathing, slurping or chewing can be distracting and rather too intimate). 
  • Start promptly. You know that thing about how the closer you live to somewhere, the more often you arrive there late? Something like that goes on with remote meetings, because many of us seem to find it harder to connect to a call on time, even though we only have to move our finger. Over time, those lost minutes build up, so it can pay to be strict. 11.30 doesn’t mean 11.34, it means 11.30!
  • Notifications off. Noisy message notifications from the company Slack or equivalent while you’re talking can be distracting, while notifications from Whatsapp.web can seem downright unprofessional. If necessary, show your team how to easily turn their notifications off and on, they’ll get the message!
  • Keep still. Seeing someone’s wobbly journey through their flat as they go to make a cup of tea or answer the door can be quite illuminating if you’re looking to clues about their home life, but it’s also pretty distracting. Encourage your team to pause their video when they’re on the move.

Learn the mute shortcut

When you’ve been listening for a while and someone asks you a question, you’ll answer forgetting you’re still on mute. This is one of the immutable laws of remote meetings, as inescapable as gravity. You just need to accept it. What you can do is familiarize yourself with the mute shortcut key on whatever tool your team uses so that you can at least rectify your mistake quickly and with minimum fluster. 

Embrace your tools

Right, when you’re trying to collaborate remotely you miss being able to scrawl on that whiteboard or having everyone stick post it notes on a big board. But perhaps it’s time for a re-think. After all, are marker pens really the pinnacle of idea-sharing technology?

There are tools out there designed for remote teams that will allow you to take online collaboration to a whole new level. Mural and Conceptboard are fairly easy to use if you want to brainstorm ideas remotely, with simple drag-and-drop sharing. Then there’s Miro, an ‘infinitely zoomable canvas and web whiteboard’ that’s really useful for real-time collaboration. And you don’t have to rub it clean afterwards.

Use the chat feature

Most video conferencing platforms have a chat feature where participants can send instant messages as part of the call. This can be really useful in large meetings or presentations when you have a question but don’t want to interrupt the speaker. Post the question or comment in the chat box and the speaker can get to it in their own time. 

Save the small-talk

Your team needs to be able to chat to each other throughout the working week about non-work stuff. It’s crucial for team-building and, well, just keeping sane. But sometimes with remote teams, status updates can turn into a chance for a gossip and suddenly 20 minutes has passed without anything work-related being discussed.

If this sounds familiar, you could consider cutting down on your status update meetings, making sure that the ones you’re left with are used more productively. This will leave your team with a bit more time, some of which they’ll want to use to catch up with each other, and this should be encouraged. Across larger teams you might even want to create a separate channel in Slack (or whichever IM tool you use) for non-work related stuff. 

Consider headsets

It’s true that if you’re the only one wearing a headset, you might look a bit like you’re trying too hard. But if your whole team wears one you’ll enjoy better sound all round and fewer technical hiccups.

Something to look forward to

The tips we’ve listed here are designed to make sure that the quality of your meetings doesn’t suffer for being remote. But you might be able to go even further than that. If you can maintain or even improve the content of your meetings while reducing the amount you have, you might even find that your remote team starts to look forward to team video calls as a chance to connect and engage with their colleagues. Yes, it’s possible… people might end up loving meetings after all!